28 September 2005

A Military Blogging Meta-Musing.

I am not a veteran. I signed up for the Selective Service like every other law abiding male in the country who isn't a conscientious objector, updated my address as required by law (even though most people don't), and breathed a sigh of relief when, after about eight years, I was no longer obligated to register. As a lifelong civilian, I am in the majority of men my age. I don't even own a gun, never have, and don't plan to own one. I've fired one once or twice, at a target in a grandfather's backyard, and I've heard a couple of stories from the military experiences of my father, who was drafted for a couple of years during peacetime in the early days of the Cold War. I am just barely young enough that I could, in theory, sign up now, but I've been a third rate athlete all my life and a decade of sedentary employment preceeded by relatively sedentary college and graduate school days has not improved my physical prowess. I don't believe in the wars we are fighting now. As a result, I feel no moral duty to sign up to fight them.

There are plenty of people out there who would say that I have no credibilty to blog or opine at all about military matters. If someone like myself was a conservative blogger, I'd be called a "chickenhawk" or a member of the "101st keyboarders", by liberal bloggers. I've always felt that those terms are somewhat unfair, but have never actively taken a stand against using them either.

Never the less, I intend to continue military blogging and I think that I do have something worthwhile to say. This country needs some sort of military defense. We are too big to go the way of Costa Rica and simply dispense with having a military force. Indeed, on occassion, it is legitimate for the United States to intervene abroad militarily.

Military blogging, like the military officer corps, is dominanted by hard core conservatives. It is not healthy, in a democracy, for the people to cede military policy to a single political party or ideology. If progressives are serious about leading this country, they need to, collectively, at least, invest the time and effort needed to understand military issues and develop an affirmative agenda to address those issues, rather than merely responding in the negative to anything that conservatives suggest. Some military issues are non-partisan and technical in nature. Others, however, are blatantly political and military bloggers and policy makers can be horribly wrongminded about some of these issues. The guys at the Strategy Page do a great job of looking at less partisan staffing issues in the military and procurement issues, but they also have very frightening stances in areas like what they call "lawfare". Murdoc Online, another conservative military blog (run by a non-veteran like myself), also can have some pretty disturbing ideas about politics and civil liberties, even though he has enough worthwhile to say about military specific issues that I find it worthwhile to read his blog on a regular basis.

Fair enough, but shouldn't I then defer to military veterans on less partisan issues? I think that the answer there is again, no. As much as many of them would like to claim otherwise, almost every military veteran has relatively narrow personal experience. Almost all have spent their entire military careers (often for just four years or so) in one or two specialties in a single military service. Almost all know most of what they know about Pentagon level issues from their own personal research, or from classroom type instruction within the military itself that isn't any better. I'm perfectly willing to defer to someone whose driven a tank about how a better tank ought to be designed, or to a Marine about what does and does not work in terms of close fire support from ships. But, the tank driver isn't any better situated than I am to evaluate how many tanks the U.S. military needs, and the Marine is no better situated than I to evaluate how many F-22s the Air Force should buy.

In our American democracy, the military is subordinate to civilian authority. They report ultimately to federal elected officials and their appointees. In other words, our system of government makes soldiers subordinate to politicians. My goal in military blogging is not to tell an Army Captain how to run his company. My goal is to develop well researched opinions about the kind of decisions that the politicians to whom the soldiers report need to ultimately take responsibility for making. I've never been a general, but I have spent a fair amount of time in close proximity to the politicans who make those decisions. Indeed, I had a front row seat as a Congressional intern when Congress voted on whether or not to commence the First Gulf War. (My representative voted against that war and I continue to believe that he made the right call in that case.) And, while I may not be more knowledgeable about the military than a significant number of military strategists in the Pentagon, I most certainly am more knowledgeable about the issues than the vast majority of politicians in Congress and their staff members. There are a select few in the halls of Congress who are more knowledgeable than I, but not many, and it is the case that fewer progressives than conservatives have taken the time and effort to inform themselves about military affairs. Somebody with his heart in the right place needs to fill that knowledge gap in the public debate, and this is one area where I have chosen to devote my political interests and blogging time. Ultimately, war is foreign policy and politics by other means.

I do not share the fundamental tenant of identity politics that the messenger is the message, something that is particularly true on the Internet where even a cat is judged by what he has to say, instead of who he is. I always welcome comment from those who feel that they are better informed than I, or who have rational criticisms of a point of view that I have, and if you changed my mind, it wouldn't be the first time I'd changed my views on a military issue after having become more informed. But, I also have no patience for fools who have nothing more than ad hominem attacks with which to respond to otherwise sound analysis.


Anonymous said...


Until you have sat in the mud, back of a truck traveling along a highly bombed roadway, or sat in a bunker with mortars landing all around you and looked at your buddy next to you and wondered if today is your day to die or his/hers you have no right to open your liberal lips up and speak about the military. When that day comes...take that gun from your grandfather's house and try to stare down into your enemy's eyes from 3 feet away and decide if you have the courage to save your buddy's life by taking the enemy's!

I am a veteran of two wars and I have been there and done that. I have spent many hours wondering if today was my day...and yet I did it. Not for me, not for every American, but for my buddy...I spent every day in those deserts saving his life and trying to stay alive long enough to wonder if I would come home to more "Baby Killers" rants by people like you who are too damn liberal to understand that you can speak out like you do because of soldiers like my buddy. Remember the hippies of Vietnam, all you Internet Bloggers are are just the technologically updated versions!

So lawyer-boy, take that to heart and understand that Veterans do not want your trivial, obscene, and ignorant liberal views...because we have the nightmares to remind us!

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Even had I served in the military, I would have done none of those things outside a training ground. My service aged youth was during a period of peace and prosperity.